I have to thank my high school track coach. I wanted to try the pole vault. I was a sprinter, but thought flinging my body high up into the air and over a bar would be super fun. He told me that I couldn’t. When pressed, he said it was because girls don’t have enough muscles in their chests to maneuver the technique. I believed him and gave up, discouraged. Fast forward and I’m watching a track meet on television. There is a girl’s pole vaulting event and I’m shocked. It took me a minute to figure out that what my coach said had not been accurate. I don’t believe he lied. I do believe that at the time, it was a common belief. Until a female pushed the issue. Why do I thank my coach? Because it taught me that from now on, I wouldn’t give anyone the ability to tell me what I could or couldn’t do. It gave me more confidence to pursue whatever I wanted to pursue. Win or lose, I would be the one in charge of my life.
I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to interview Olympic Decathlon Gold Medalist Rafer Johnson. In preparation for the interview, I read his autobiography, The Best That I Can Be. His story is filled with reasons why he couldn’t: His father whipped him, the sole of his foot had been sliced off, bad weather, high altitude, racial intolerance, bad back, sickness, witnessing a good friend’s assassination. Rafer had a million excuses why he shouldn’t be successful. And yet, to this day he has dreamed big and achieved big. Taking the worse experiences one can imagine and using them to strengthen his inner core. He never let anyone tell him he couldn’t do something. No one would get in his way, even his internal voice.
Back to my interview with him. After reading his book, I felt like that little blue circle on your computer screen when it goes round and round because it’s processing too much at one time. I had 30 minutes to an hour and I couldn't decide where I wanted to take the story. I wanted to honor a great man, but I especially wanted to tell people, through his story, how powerful it is to live by his motto. I pray that I have been The Best Writer That I Can Be in order to inspire my readers to emulate his philosophy and be The Best That They Can Be.
When I was young, my family went to a Little League game. A baseball was hit outside of the park. I wanted that ball, but so did a boy sitting a few seats down from me. When I realized he was going after the same ball, I sprinted as fast as I could to snatch it before he did. It was a neck-and-neck race for a bit, but then something happened; I had previously unknown jets that ignited, and I outran him significantly.
When I got back to my seat, my mother was excited. She said “Your legs were like lightening!” I can still remember that day and the tone in her voice. So began my love-affair with running.
Several decades later, I still feel like I’m only fully realized for who I am when I’m out on a run. It’s like my body was designed specifically for this purpose. My doctor says that all ‘you-runners’ treat running like a religion. But that’s kind of the opposite of what it is for me. It’s when I’m running that I feel closer to God than at any other time. So running itself isn’t the religion. It’s running that makes me feel the most religious.
When I’m out on a long run (for me that’s about eight miles) I tend to go to the country, since we’re in a rural area. I begin by praying, thanking God for my ability to run since every day that I get older the odds become less that my body is able to accommodate my wishes. And then the thoughts come in. I’ve written two books while running. I’ve written multiple articles. I’ve problem-solved projects. My brain does things that I can’t get it to do at any other time. Maybe this is what meditation is for others. Although I’ve always assumed meditation was emptying your brain, not filling it up. I really wish I could invent a thought-recorder. The words, phrases, thoughts, ideas and all that pops up on a run are so much better out there than when I finally get back to my keyboard to write them down.
Because I’m out in the country I see wildlife. I’ve had to jump over a snake, I’ve had a peacock inspect my progress, I’ve had a Rottweiler consider chasing me (thankfully he opted out) and my favorite; I’ve had a coyote pace me for a full half mile. I thoroughly enjoyed the feeling of running with him. That feeling of camaraderie with a wild thing is surreal.
There’s something about the rhythm of my breathing, the feel of my heart. The stride of my legs that hypnotically lets my mind wander. I can go for miles and then realize that I don’t even remember running as far as I have because I’m so lost in my thoughts. This is definitely my therapy. My elixir. And in some instances, my sanity.
True story. I’ve finished writing this blog and decide to do stairs at the high school before proofing. As I’m going up a flight, a baseball comes flying over my head from the nearby baseball field and lands at the base of the stairs. I run down and pick it up. I hadn’t thought of the baseball story from my childhood for years, until this morning and then this happens. I didn’t have to race for it and I didn’t have to give it back, although I did. Made me smile.
Thoughts that are alien to any of my other projects can be found here.